It was the dirty hit heard around the Japanese sports world.
During a May 6 American football game between the Tokyo-based elite Nihon University "Phoenix" and masters of the Kansai-region, the Kwansei Gakuin University "Fighters," a Phoenix defensive player powered across the field and launched himself into the Fighters' quarterback from behind, sending his target crashing into the turf. The problem: the quarterback had not only thrown the ball already, but the entire play -- an incomplete pass -- had been over for about 2 seconds. What's more, according to multiple sources the illegal tackle was ordered by Phoenix head coach Masato Uchida.
"I want everyone to imagine that; being hit from behind by someone weighing 100 kilograms-plus and wearing a helmet," said an angry Fighters football director Hiromu Ono at a May 12 news conference. "It was a deliberate attempt to injure, and was a dangerous and vicious play," he continued.
The tackle came early in the game, a rematch of the 72nd Koshien Bowl played in late 2017, and the Phoenix defensive player was sent off after committing two more rules violations. The Fighters' quarterback was replaced after being hit, and Kwansei Gakuin announced on May 15 that he had been diagnosed with "an injury to the ligament between the second and third lumbar vertebrae." The pain has apparently begun to subside, and "there is little chance of after-effects" from the injury, the school said.
The Nihon University student responsible for the tackle had apparently been a promising player for the Phoenix, and appeared in the Koshien Bowl last year. However, his performance had slipped this spring, and he had not been in many games this season. To secure his position within the team, sources said that Uchida ordered the defensive player to "destroy the quarterback on the first play."
Uchida said after the game, "That's the way I do it. We have no strength so we're always playing with desperation." The Phoenix defensive player, however, was in tears.
Kwansei Gakuin sent a written protest to Nihon University over the incident, and received a reply on May 15. Kwansei is set to present the content of the reply at a May 17 news conference.
Reached for comment, a Nihon University public relations representative said, "As a university, we will investigate the incident and implement measures to prevent a recurrence. We would like to consider disciplinary measures based on the results of the inquiry."
Uchida has not appeared publicly since the incident.
Meanwhile, on the day of the dirty tackle, the Kantoh Collegiate Football Association (KCFA) did not interview anyone involved. It announced on May 10 that it had taken interim disciplinary measures, including barring the Phoenix defensive player from games with outside teams, and issuing a stern verbal reprimand to Uchida. The KCFA will also set up a disciplinary committee and investigate the details of the incident. The body will determine further punishment at an extraordinary board of directors meeting to be held as early as next week.
One particular feature of the incident is how quickly it spread across social media, as people shared and reshared video of the tackle.
"It wasn't a very high-profile game, but its visibility was raised by social media and so people noticed how dangerous that (tackle) was," said Masafumi Kawaguchi, a former professional football player who tried out for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers in 2002 and 2003. "I hope both players and coaches wake up to the fact that you can't get away with unfairness in this era."
(Japanese original by Taro Iiyama and Yukiko Tange, Sports News Department)